After four happy months without international football, we’ve been visited by the two-week long nightmare of an international break, but it’s not always that bad. Here are interruptions that didn’t make you want to pull your hair out.
UEFA play-offs 2013
The worst thing about international breaks is that they deprive fans of their regular dosage of high-quality club football. However, in 2013 we were treated to one of the best qualifiers in recent memory. The play-off draw of 2013 pitted Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo against Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now, that might seem like an overly simplistic way of defining a game between two traditional footballing nations, but it is exactly how it turned out.
Ronaldo’s 82nd-minute winner in Lisbon gave Portugal a slender advantage going into the second leg when the tie really came alive. Ronaldo put Portugal 2-0 up on aggregate at the start of the second half, before a quickfire brace from Ibrahimovic gave the Swedes hope. Ronaldo, however, responded by scoring two goals in two minutes to complete his hattrick and send Portugal to the World Cup.
The two-legged tie had everything you’d want from an international game; goals, drama, and two of the world’s best players plying their trade in spectacular fashion.
That particular international break also featured a stunning French comeback against the Ukraine which saw them overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit. It almost made sitting through every other completely meaningless international break worthwhile.
Euro 2016 qualifiers, October 2015
For Irish fans at least, October 2015 was not a bad time for international breaks. World Cup winners Germany coming to Dublin brought with it a certain degree of excitement, but no one actually expected Ireland to get any kind of result against them.
With Scotland boasting a better head-to-head than Ireland and playing Gibraltar in their last qualification game, a defeat would almost certainly spell the end of Ireland’s summer hopes, but Shane Long did something very unlike him and put the ball in the back of the net. Ireland clung on for a famous victory against the World Champions and Scotland missed out on France as a result.
Ireland then travelled to Poland four days later where they had a chance to snatch an unlikely automatic qualification. For once, excitement about an international game was palpable and although Ireland ultimately fell to a 2-1 defeat, this international break did not feel like one that lasted an eternity.
The same international break also saw both Wales and Northern Ireland secure their qualification for Euro 2016, their first international tournament since 1958 and 1986 respectively. It turned out to be an international break to remember for the Home Nations, apart from Scotland.
World Cup qualifiers, June 2017
The only time international breaks are generally acceptable is when they don’t actually disrupt the club calendar. This last occurred in June 2017 after Europe’s major leagues had all been concluded. That international break included one of the most memorable games between Scotland and England in a long time.
The reverse fixture had seen a facile win for England at Wembley, but the same could not be said when they travelled north in June. Taking the lead midway through the second half through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England appeared to be on course for victory in a largely forgettable game until Leigh Griffiths provided two sublime free-kicks in three minutes to put Scotland on course for a remarkable victory.
The drama wasn’t over, however. Harry Kane popped up with a 94th-minute equaliser to deny Scotland a famous victory and effectively scupper their chances of making the play-offs.
Such a dramatic game, combined with the fact that there was no disruption of the club calendar, made this international break a genuinely enjoyable week.
The wally with the brolly, November 2007
Qualifying for Euro 2008 was utterly bizarre. UEFA’s decision to trial seven groups of seven teams meant that there seemed to be an international break every other week. Seven groups also meant that there was only seven first seeds, and some of the best teams in Europe found themselves drop down the pecking order. As a result, some of the groups drawn were ridiculously top heavy.
The decision to dispense with the play-off system in favour of two teams automatically qualifying from each group only increased the pressure of making the top two, pressure that ultimately got to England.
After taking Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup final in 2006, Steve McClaren was enduring a fairly difficult beginning to his tenure as England manager. 0-0 draws with Macedonia and Israel sandwiched an embarrassing defeat to Croatia and England were in serious trouble of missing out on their first international tournament in 14 years.
They seemed to steady the ship, however, and a draw at home to Croatia on the final day would have been enough to send them to Austria and Switzerland. A goalkeeping error from Scott Carson – England’s second such error against Croatia in the qualifying group – and a goal from Ivica Olic put England on the brink of elimination, only for Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch to keep them alive. But with ten minutes left Bolton’s Mladen Petric struck to embarrass England.
McClaren, in particular, was subjected to media criticism in the wake of the defeat and the image of him standing under an umbrella in his technical area became iconic.